Need Band, Will Travel
Last fall local neosoul talent Andreus (born Deandrias Sherman) released his debut, Street Troubadour, on the British label Dome Records. It's impressive not only for the music but for the amount of work the 32-year-old musician put into it--he wrote and sang all the songs, programmed the drums, and played nearly all the guitar, bass, and keyboards. But his accomplishment has come back to haunt him: now he can't figure out how to re-create the music live.
The problem is that he doesn't want to sing over prerecorded backing tracks, as many R & B acts do. But he doesn't have enough connections in the music community to scrape together a full band, which means he'd have to use hired guns--and they don't come cheap. He and his label recently scrapped plans for a short British tour when they discovered it would cost at least as much to bring a band overseas as it did to record, mix, and distribute the album. He has yet to play even a single show in Chicago.
Dome generally deals in the soulful side of acid jazz, but Andreus's specialty is reinterpreting Chicago soul from a hip-hop perspective--while his falsetto is reminiscent of one of his avowed father figures, Curtis Mayfield, he can also confidently ride a modern breakbeat. He writes bona fide melodies (instead of merely stringing together melismatic swoops and dips), and his vocal range adds to the drama of his material--as on "Daddy Please," the most arresting song on Street Troubadour. On the hard funk-rock of the verses his pinched delivery recalls Bad Brains vocalist H.R.; on the lush chorus, in which the narrator begs his father to stop beating his mother, he hints at the vulnerability of Ronald Isley.
Nearly all his songs counter the dire prospects of a black kid in the ghetto with keep-on-pushin' bromides. But there's a heartfelt sentiment behind his lyrical cliches. Andreus grew up in the rough south-side neighborhood of Roseland; in the late 80s, when he was 16, his mother remarried and the family moved to a relatively nice area in Evanston.
"It was a culture shock," he says. "But I learned. It showed me there was a whole 'nother side. A lot of kids that came up with me and a lot of ghetto children today, they're not going to see past the block, they're not going to venture past a six-block radius. They're going to go to prison, or die young, or become addicted to crack or alcohol. It was like I went around the world and I could see things better."
Andreus had been a musical kid, though he didn't always have the opportunity to explore his talent--he'd had two bass guitars swiped from his home before he was 13. He was into hip-hop by the time he moved to Evanston, where he hooked up with some friends who owned drum machines and other electronic gadgets. He taught himself the basics--programming beats, using sequencers, and rapping--and continued to dabble throughout the 90s, recording tracks in friends' bedrooms. But he didn't have anything resembling a music career until 2000, when his friend Kevin Whitman, an aspiring MC, played some of Andreus's stuff for Eric Parris.
Parris had briefly managed a jazz group in Miami in the early 90s; he then moved back to Chicago, where he DJed at WCBR and interned with Wayne Williams at Jive. Now he was working in advertising and taking night classes, hoping a law degree would help him make his way in the music biz. He jumped at the chance to work with Andreus. Unable to find any investors, he and the singer financed a CD single, "Mississippi," in the fall of 2001. They tried to generate interest at urban stations throughout the midwest, and even down in Mississippi, but had no luck until they contacted Tim Mundy, an Atlanta DJ for the London-based on-line station Soul 24-7.com.
Mundy encouraged them to send the single to some London DJs, one of whom, Chris Wells, started playing it on the station. Wells also hooked the pair up with independent British promoter Dean Johnson, who in turn passed the single on to Dome owner Peter Robinson. Robinson asked to hear more, and in late July 2002 he offered to license an album. The catch: he needed to have the completed product in hand by early September. Andreus had already written a slew of songs, but he had almost nothing recorded. Over the course of the next three weeks, he'd come home from his day job and track the album at night; except for a few contributions from a handful of area musicians, Andreus performed all 13 songs himself, and he produced them as well. The album was mixed in three days, and Street Troubadour was released a little more than a month later.
Andreus is a work in progress. He could definitely use a producer's guiding hand--taken as a piece, his album has a monochromatic feel, and the beats are often stiff and mechanical. But the disc suggests genuine talent, and with any luck he'll get a chance to show it off in front of a live audience someday. Andreus says he hopes to play some local gigs this spring--but that without the financial support of an American label, finding musicians to back him isn't getting any easier.
I've never had much use for the sentiment "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything." But I heartily endorse "If you don't have anything to say, then don't say it." I'd like to pass that advice along to Chunklet, the slick Athens-based fanzine that's been amusing itself with indie-rock minutiae for over a decade now. The zine's new 17th issue features some adequate interviews with the members of Mission of Burma and decent pieces on Fred Armisen, Janeane Garofalo, and Saturday Night Live animator Robert Smigel, but the cover story, "Pay Not to Play: Which Bands Will We Pay to Break Up?," is essentially a six-page list of hundreds of groups, ranked by how much the zine would cough up if they threw in the towel. Once you get the joke--this is their curmudgeonly way of assessing who's who--it's a slightly more entertaining read than the white pages. But the phone book's free--Chunklet will run you $7.95.
On Monday, British singer-songwriter Sally Crewe will release her debut, Drive It Like You Stole It, on the British label 12XU, the new imprint operated by Matador founder and co-owner Gerard Cosloy. Crewe is backed by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno of the Austin band Spoon (who have quietly become one of the best rock groups out there), and her lean pop songs are driven by the tension between the careful restraint of the music and her easy vocal style.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dorothy Perry.